ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Devniti: Use of Deities in Local Politics


Before independence, the nature of panchayat institutions was informal in Himachal Pradesh (HP) and lacked participation of the marginalised sections, mainly women and Scheduled Castes (SCs). While regions like Malanaa village in Kullu districtthese institutions were representative and played a crucial role in the sociopolitical lives of the locals. Locally, these institutions were known as Khumbli/Khumli. Modern panchayats were established in 1954 under the Himachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act, 1952. This act was amended in 1956 and then in 1968. Subsequent to the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, the state legislature of HP passed the new panchayati raj act in 1994.

In HP, voting turnout in the panchayat elections is always higher than the assembly and Lok Sabha elections. According to the state election commission report, the total voting percentage in the sixth panchayat elections in January 2021 was 80.4%, with 39.19 lakh people exercising their franchise, which explains the importance of these elections. The panchayat elections in the state are still far away from the influence of the state/national parties. While analysing the 2021 panchayat elections in the Chauhara block of Shimla district, the indigenous element seems electorally relevant. The role of local deities is one of them. These deities are locally known as devatas. They play an important role in determining the voting behaviour. This strategy is popularly known as devniti in the region. Simply put, devniti means the involvement of devatas in panchayat elections, which influences the voting behaviour. Local deities play a crucial role in the sociopolitical lives of the people in these societies. Sometimes, commands from these deities define their electoral preferences too. However, the name of devatas is used by candidates to mould the behaviour of local voters in their favour. At the same time, it is a multidimensional practice determined by various aspects. One important aspect which was observed during the authors field visit was development. In the Chauhara block, most of the villages are small in size and panchayats are generally constituted by the amalgamations of two or more villages. To ensure the development of the village, everyone wishes that their preferred candidate gets elected. For the guarantee of each and every vote of the village, devniti is invoked for the mobilisation of votes. Also, this involvement is more likely when there is only one candidate contesting from a village.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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